Thursday, 11 July 2013

Where to eat? The Temple Cafe, Northton, Isle of Harris

My partner and I knew the shops and petrol stations are closed on Sundays on Outer Hebrides but me – enthusiastic (and naive as it turns out) foodie managed to convince him that apart from few bottles of mineral water stuck in our cool box (it was a hot day) we shouldn’t take anything else and some places will be serving lunches. Yeah right… 

We headed south from Seaforth, where we stayed (a beautiful spot!) and we passed one open bar in Tarbert however it was still too early to have a lunch. The further south we traveled on Harris the more we realised it is nothing but a desert when it comes to serving food. All cafes, pubs, galleries serving snacks were closed. My partner spotted a place with several car parked outside and we decided we are going to check it out. I was so hungry I would settle for a sandwich made with cotton wool like bread, margarine, coloured cheddar served with crisps (probably my worst nightmare sandwich idea ever!). Instead we actually had very tasty and fresh food for lunch in rather interesting place.

Interior is very cosy, big enough to accommodate and serve food to around 20 people. The building is made of stone and looks like an ancient temple indeed. One side is made of glass and the view is spectacular. The best that Harris can offer: hills, sea, lovely sand. And sheep grazing peacefully. An idyll. 

I was very happy to see an open kitchen too. It is tiny and three people make a crowd in it and I was delighted to see it has a coffee grinder, homemade bread and fresh vegetables. We had lovely lunch and were very happy to discover that they serve evening meals too, so we booked two spaces for Friday night. Booking is essential, because the chef (and owner - Gail) is only able to serve a limited number of covers, and this place is not very spacious too. On Friday night we have witnessed people being send back because they didn't book and the cafe was fully booked that night.

Menu is short, which I like - it means all food is freshly prepared in tiny kitchen (they have some kind of storage outside too, that gives you an idea how small the kitchen actually is) and if they run out of something it comes off the blackboard and chef has to prepare new lot. No frozen nonsense, no microwaved defrosted crap. In the evening they serve food from 6.30 pm and when we arrived just before 7 pm the scallops and chorizo came off the menu already! What a shame! The choice was still satisfying though. In general I think there are always (well at least at 6.30pm) three starters, three mains and few desserts including a cheeseboard to choose from. Oh, and you bring your own booze. The cafe is not licensed to serve alcohol, but they are more than happy to serve you a wine or beer glasses so you can enjoy whatever you brought with you. By the way - the glasses are mismatched. So are the plates. Love it. My kind of place.

For a lunch we had squash, sweet potato, pea and coconut soup served with homemade bread, followed by summer vegetable tart (with caramelised onion, roast peppers, courgettes). Both dishes were very tasty - soup was rich, well seasoned, with chunks of vegetables and the bread was fresh. Tart base was very crumbly, not soaked in egg and cream mixture (very popular for some reason?) and the vegetables were al dente. It was served with couscous,  salad, olives and chickpeas. For a dessert we decided to have a coffee (excellent, freshly ground and they have a soya milk, yay! Perfectly steamed and frothy) and my partner had a white chocolate and raspberry scone while I was really keen to have a carrot cake. Unfortunately it was not available yet still on a blackboard, so one of the girls (south European looking, so was her accent) asked me if I fancy chocolate cheesecake because she can make it for me. So 5 minutes later I had very simple, improvised cheesecake which was basically a stack of digestives, sweet cream cheese topped with melted chocolate. Top score for trying to make a customer happy. 

For a dinner we both started with a selection of charcuterie, olives and bread. It was served with a caramelised red onion. For a main my partner had a beef goulash and I had a veggie lasagne. I was surprised (I shouldn't really as this is quite common in UK to serve potatoes with pasta dishes - for me personally it doesn't work) to get a roast new potatoes with my lasagne, but these were happily consumed by my partner and I thoroughly enjoyed pasta dish served with raw vegetable salad and courgette & carrot ribbons. What a lovely raw salad it was! Fresh, crunchy, sweet, peppery - thousands of light-years away from a boring and most popular traditional Coleslaw. 

For a dessert I finally got to try their carrot cake. It was scrumptious. Quite light, not too sweet with slightly salty topping. Probably the best one I had in a long, long time. Not too big too, for me it is an advantage, but my partner had to order another sticky toffee pudding to be satisfied. With all meals, lunch or dinner time we had water - you can get mineral water, but it is worth trying Hebridean tap water.

This certainly isn't a place serving parmesan foam or snail porridge, but what you will find here is what I call- honest food. Tasty, freshly made by a woman who seems to be really excited about tasty food and good ingredients. Gail when she finishes the service comes out of the kitchen, talks to the guests, sometimes she pinches a salad dressing from one table to give it to another. I thought it was funny when she was playing with her Ipod and asked us if there is any type of music we would be offended by.

She is also very open to the various dietary requirements - vegan, gluten free, non dairy diet? No problem. The cafe also hosts private parties.

This is one of these places that I will not forget. Great spot, spectacular views, lovely atmosphere and simple, delicious food. What more would you wish for on a holiday? I recommend this place with all my heart.

We paid £30 for the lunch, and £42.50 for the evening meal and it worked like this: 2 meals £15 and 3 meals £18. Good value for money definitely.  

The Temple Cafe
HS3 3JA 
Eilean Siar
United Kingdom 
tel. 07876 340416

Closed Mondays, Tuesday - Sunday 10:30am - 5:30 pm, evening meals 6.30-9.30pm but I have an impression it is only during the summer time, so better ring and ask!

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